WATERTOWN, Mass. — Don’t look at the numbers. They don’t tell the story.
The numbers only record it as a save for Tony Capobianco. That misses the fact that somehow, someway, he stopped the conference’s all-time leading goal scorer dead in his tracks. It misses the critical save in overtime that slightly defied logic. It misses the pucks covered up to slow down play and allow the defense to regroup in front of him.
Through the first five periods plus 40 seconds of overtime, Capobianco allowed eight goals. But the senior goaltender was locked in for the rest of the series. Pick your favorite goaltending cliché – he was a wall, he stood on his head. Capobianco was one of the stars for the Canisius Golden Griffins in their dramatic win in three games over Bentley in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals.
After losing the first game in the best-of-three series, the Griffs were down, 4-1, on Saturday, facing the final 20 minutes of their season.
But Capobianco knew that once his team gets into an offensive flow, the goals can come quickly. Coach Dave Smith reminded him that all he needed to do was stop the next puck.
Capobianco finished with 42 saves in Saturday’s win, including the final 19 shots he faced. He turned aside 38 shots in Sunday’s win and finished the series with 107 stops.
“I did talk to him Saturday after the second period … and I said to Capo, ‘Stand on your head until we get hot.’ And he did,” Smith said. “And he hasn’t stopped. He’s the MVP of this weekend among a lot of guys but I think Capo front and center.”
Meanwhile in Colorado Springs, the Niagara Purple Eagles had dozens of explanations at the ready should they have bowed out of the playoffs in the quarterfinal round.
They were playing No. 3 Air Force in Colorado, where Eastern visitors have to deal with a two-hour time zone change and altitude. Throw in the fact that Niagara left six injured players home, and had to deal with blizzard-delayed travel, and most betting men would have picked Air Force to roll into the next round.
But the adversity brought a young team closer together and after losing the first night, 2-1, Niagara rebounded with a 4-3 win on Saturday and a 4-3 overtime win on Sunday to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“The deck was stacked up against,” coach Dave Burkholder said. “We had pages and pages of excuses but going in we told the guys your desire has to be stronger than your excuses. And that won it for us. There was not one complaint from the start of the trip to the end of overtime. This is as proud as I’ve ever been of one of our teams.”
Freshman Jackson Teichroeb has taken ownership of the Purple Eagles’ net, making 89 saves in the three games.
Both Canisius and Niagara advanced to the Atlantic Hockey Final Four at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. The Griffs play No. 1 seed Mercyhurst. The game is a rematch of last year’s championship game. The Purple Eagles face No. 5 seed Robert Morris in the other semifinal. The final is Saturday.